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Henry Red Cloud of Oglala Lakota Tribe on Native American Anti-Nuclear Activism, Uranium Mining, and the Recession’s Toll on Reservations

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The Nuclear-Free Future Awards are being awarded tonight at New York’s historic Cooper Union. The prize has been described as the most important anti-nuclear award in the world. We speak to one of this year’s winners, Henry Red Cloud, the great-great grandson of Chief Red Cloud. Henry Red Cloud is a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and founder of Lakota Solar Enterprises, one of the nation’s first Native American-owned and -operated renewable energy companies. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Patti Smith singing “Wing” here in our studios at Democracy Now! Tonight she will also be performing at Cooper Union, the historic building, gathering place in New York. She’ll be singing at an event that is honoring those who have won the Nuclear-Free Future Awards. The prize has been described as one of the most important anti-nuclear awards in the world.

We’re joined now by one of this year’s winners, Henry Red Cloud, the great-great-great-grandson of Chief Red Cloud. Henry Red Cloud is a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and founder of Lakota Solar Enterprises, one of the nation’s first Native American-owned and —operated renewable energy companies. Henry Red Cloud lives on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota but is here with us in New York for these awards tonight.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

HENRY RED CLOUD: Thank you. Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: You are going to be speaking tonight at Cooper Union, where your -— how many “greats” grandfather?

HENRY RED CLOUD: Great-great-grandfather, Mahpíya Lúta, spoke 140 years ago. His speech then was of how the light-skinned people could help his children to prosper. And through his vision, through his dream, that upon seven generations from where he stood, his people will again be living in harmony and balance, which brings me to what I’m doing today with the renewable energy.

I have a training center, which I had forty-eight students come through my program, Native American students, and they have received, you know, certificates in this renewable energy at the grass — or residential level, you know, grassroot level, which they’re working today. Overall, we were able to create seventy-two jobs.

I believe that his, you know, prophecy is what renewable is — energy is, you know, today — creates hope, creates economic development, and as well as helping lessening our moccasin carbon print. So, as we, you know, journey on this, this is my grandfather’s wish that, upon seven generations, taking the goodness of the light-skinned people and also taking the goodness within the Natives and then combining them together and then coming up with a unique thing, so we can again live in harmony and balance and, you know, prosper. It’s all about unity, coming together, compassion.

AMY GOODMAN: What are you actually building?

HENRY RED CLOUD: Well, for the past six years, we have been building this solar air heating system. We have taken a 1970s concept, implemented twenty-first century material, and then tweaked it Lakota style, and we came up with a money-saving, efficient air heater, which saves, you know, 30 percent of your heating costs over its lifespan of twenty-plus years, so…

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, obviously, one of — President Obama has been pressing very hard in his speeches for the need to create jobs, through this deep recession of ours, through renewable energy. What has — how has the recession affected Native — the Native peoples on their own reservations and their land? And how do you see, as the rest of the country is hitting ten percent unemployment, what the situation is on your land?

HENRY RED CLOUD: Well, for the past, you know, hundred years, we have always been in, you know, depression. You know, currently, today, over 80 percent — anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of unemployment throughout Indian countries. So, if there’s a day that we have, you know, ten percent unemployment, people would be having a pow wow and singing and dancing in the streets. It has had effect out there. You know, Native people are in survival mode every day. The average Lakota, where I come from, lives on $6,100 per year, which isn’t much. So everybody is in survival mode, doing what they can and living with the land — not on the land, but living with the land.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, we’re talking a lot about poverty today, all over this country, this recession that has affected so many, talking about unemployment figures of, what, ten percent nationally, they’re saying. What about on the reservation?

HENRY RED CLOUD: On the reservation it’s — today’s stats are 86 percent unemployment, today.

AMY GOODMAN: Eight-six percent.

HENRY RED CLOUD: Eight-six percent on — there’s 44,000 Lakota today, and out of there, 86 percent. We have such a high rate of, you know, diabetes, as well as the average life expectancy is fifty years old. So I’m pretty lucky.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yet, when — a lot of the press images of what’s happening in Indian country are often about gambling and casinos on Native reservations. In California, supposedly, the Native tribes there are the biggest lobbying group or one of the biggest lobbying groups in the States. What — how would the — the clash of this image between what you’re seeing and what the rest of the American public is seeing?

HENRY RED CLOUD: What I’m seeing, where I come from, we’re in a very rural area. We can — we travel 120 miles to the nearest city, which the population there is, you know, 60,000. So it’s like far and in between a casino, where — we have such a small one, and it isn’t lucrative. And then the eastern, the western coasts, where there’s more people, you have very lucrative casinos. But overall, I believe that renewable energy is our, you know, casino.

AMY GOODMAN: Last night at the dinner welcoming the Nuclear-Free Future winners —-


AMY GOODMAN: —- you stood up and sang. Can you talk about the song and then sing it here?

HENRY RED CLOUD: Yes, I can do that. The song represents a unity, you know, coming together, looking — uniting and, you know, coming together and looking towards the future to things — as we bring our energy together, we all — we understand that all of our ceremonies are prayers and that we come from a great spirit, and that leads us — that leads us to know that we are spirit. So we all gather together within that realm, and then we walk forward. We bring all our spirit, all our goodness together, and then we walk forward into this new twenty-first century, as well as centuries to come, and to gather together and make a better place for the next icimani, the next generations. And the song honors that, honors, for instance, last night the individuals that were there, as well as tonight, and then across the country. We all need to come together and make a better place for icimani. And I’ll that song.

[sings in Oglala Lakota]

Ho mitakuye oyasin. We are all related.

AMY GOODMAN: What language are you singing?

HENRY RED CLOUD: Lakota, Oglala Lakota.

AMY GOODMAN: And the feather that you’re wearing in your hair?

HENRY RED CLOUD: The feather that I’m wearing in my hair belongs to my great-great-grandfather. It was handed down within the family. My grandfather had many eagle feathers, the golden eagle. And this particular feather was at the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, as well as it’s been — it was also here 140 years ago.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’m interested in your Lakota Solar Enterprises. What kind of backing or support are you getting from the federal government or local governments, in terms of your efforts, especially with all the stimulus money floating around for renewable jobs?

HENRY RED CLOUD: Uh-huh, when we first got started, I partnered up — a very natural partnership — with Trees, Water & People, a nonprofit based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. They were doing pretty much the same thing that I was doing back six years ago, and we formed a natural partnership. Through support foundations, Trees, Water & People were able to support two hundred — over 280 of these air heaters, which we opened our doors to, Lakota Solar Enterprises at that time, and started installing these for grandmothers throughout Indian country to help them to, you know, save. And after that, we did a two-year intense research and redesign of the air heater. And today we’re manufacturing air heaters. We have manufactured 600 of these units, created eleven full-time jobs in Indian country, as well as two years ago we opened the doors to Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center, where it’s — we train Native Americans, students, in renewable energy at the residential level.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the people you employ is Leonard Peltier, the Native American leader who lived on the Pine Ridge reservation, his son, right?

HENRY RED CLOUD: Yes, yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: He’s in prison for life, but his son works with you.

HENRY RED CLOUD: Yeah, his son’s been with me for over a year now. And he is a great solar warrior.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, uranium mining, what does it mean on reservations? What’s happening?

HENRY RED CLOUD: It’s terrible. It’s, first of all, our water situation. You know, water is going to be — it is mni wiconi, the water of life. Everything needs water — things that we eat, our souls, our livelihood — and it’s affecting our water. So water is — it’s terrible.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Affecting the water in terms of contaminating?

HENRY RED CLOUD: Drinking water, yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: When they mine uranium.

HENRY RED CLOUD: Yeah, when they mine.

AMY GOODMAN: And the tailings that —-

HENRY RED CLOUD: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Communities are -— it’s just, you know, terrible. We need to stop what we’re doing and start looking towards alternative — the natural.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Henry Red Cloud, for coming here. Tonight you will be at Cooper Union. We will be recording that. You will be joining Patti Smith and Winona LaDuke and Jonathan Schell and many others who will be gathered from around the world. Other winners, a nuclear scientist from Russia who lives in a closed city, an activist who has been trying to get compensation from France for testing the atomic bomb in Polynesia, and others. That’s at Cooper Union tonight at 7:00 here in New York City. Henry Red Cloud, thanks so much for being with us, member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, proprietor of Lakota Solar Enterprises.

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